Thomas Hardy was one of the finest writers of the Victorian age. Among countless poems and novels there is one that seems to stand alone, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” This novel is one of Hardy’s most recognized works maybe because the problems of the Victorian era relate to many in this modern age.
Problems such as rape, the importance of purity and never knowing what you really have until it’s gone. These three things make up the theme, sub-theme and motif of Thomas Hardy’s, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” Not being aware of the good things you have until they’re gone is the theme of Tess.
In the novel, Angel Clare and Tess are married, but when Angel finds out the truth about Tess’ past he is outraged and hurt. Succumbing to his initial feelings, Angel leaves Tess and tries to continue on about his life without her.
As time passed, Angel finally realizes that he does love Tess, and so he tries to locate her. Once he finds her, he learns she has started a new life with Alec D’Urberville; the man of her past. Angel begs Tess to come back to him but she says he came too late. The theme behind the story is that Angel recognizes his mistake but still misses out on her love.
When Angel left Tess he was just acting on impulse. By the time he sat down and rationalized his decisions, Tess had already continued on about her life. Angel knew he loved Tess and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but his feelings weren’t evident until he lost her.
Once Tess was gone Angel knew that he could not live without her. This is a problem still in our time. People take for granted what they have and never really realize what they had until they’ve lost it. With time people will learn to value what they already possess and try to give it all the attention it deserves. Rape is, and always will be, a part of society. Fortunately, in our time people of any stature can be punished for such a crime.
In the Victorian era however, rape victims were silent and their suffering went unheard. Often, rape victims were blamed for their misfortune, and were said to bring it upon themselves. This was the case with Tess and Alec D’Urberville. When Tess told her mother of her rape, all her mother could say was that Tess should have “known the ways of men.”
Tess bore a child of Alec D’Urberville which then died. For this, she was looked down upon for being an unwed mother. Again, this was her fault, for not “knowing the ways of men.” In our day it is not the rape victims’ fault for what happens to them, though that thought still remains.
However, in the Victorian era the victim was said to have seduced the rapist into that act. Because Alec D’Urberville was wealthy, powerful and a “gentleman,” as seen by much of his society, his wrongdoing conveniently went unnoticed and unpunished. Tess’ pain and suffering went unheard by many until she did something dreadful; she murdered him.
After her crime, Tess was still blamed for what happens and no one took any notice that Alec D’Urberville is the one who drove her to do what she did. Rape represents the sub-theme in this novel and was a major issue at that time and in ours. The importance of purity is a reoccurring message throughout the novel. In the Victorian era a women’s purity was a very important thing. If a woman was not pure then she was looked down upon by the community. It did not matter if a women’s innocence was stolen from her or if she willingly gave it away, in the eyes of her community she was still seen in the same light.
The loss of innocence is often referred to in the text. Tess is seen at the beginning of the novel dressed in white clothing and wearing a red ribbon. White is often used to describe purity and red for seduction or a loss of innocence. When Alec D’Urberville’s character is introduced he is bathing in red. He lives among red roses and strawberries and is dressed in dark clothes. After the rape, when Alec departs from Tess he disappears through the red berry bushes. It is as though Hardy is showing the two worlds in which Alec and Tess lived.
Tess’ world was full of pure, innocent scenes while Alec D’Urberville’s was surrounded by sins. As the novel progresses Tess is no longer seen in white clothing, she’s always in filthy or plain clothes. The rape affects the way society views Tess, but it also alters the way in which Tess views herself. She sees her life in this way because her innocence was stolen from her by Alec.
The importance of this innocence is also important in the modern world. If a girl is not “pure” she is looked down upon. The result of a woman being impure is not as severe as it might have been in the Victorian era, but the consequences it brings are still the same and just as painful. Views of the Victorian era haven’t been forgotten in the present day.
The way that society regards such issues as rape, the importance of purity, and not caring much for the good things you have until it’s too late is what may have been altered. The impact that these problems have on people’s lives is what defines them into different categories. In the future, all of these problems will still have a major impact on people’s lives; the difference will be the acceptable and unacceptable ways of life.
These lifestyles will determine the value of such issues as rape, the importance of purity and not knowing what you’ve been given until it’s gone. Thomas Hardy’s, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” is an interesting portrayal of the way Victorian life dealt with issues and the way that those issues transcend time.
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